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Stand Up and Be Counted2010

Updated on April 28, 2010

Stand Up And Be Counted

Until I graduated from college...the second time, I had so many different types of jobs while I was in school that it should be a misdemeanor. I had a friend once tell me that she thought of me whenever she saw a "help wanted" sign. I told her to think of me, and pick up an application.

I never liked to waste energy on hard-core, long-term complaining. I wanted to try a bunch of different types of jobs until I was happy, and anything that offered short-term employment at a reasonable rate sounded like the perfect next job to me. And so it went 10 years ago while I was in my second year of college, and the US census was looking for temporary workers.

Now know, that the census was one of those "good government jobs" I'd heard adults rave about. My previous jobs had involved aprons, a lot of driving, many changes of clothes (don't ask), and a hearty helping of my own dignity. The Census, however, made it clear that this was a grown-up job. We had to actually take a test, which at the time was a typing analysis to demonstrate good data entry skills. We were finger-printed, and we went through background checks. People with shiny badges performed our new-hire classes. When I got this job, I was dazzled by all the official paperwork, and by the complete lack of greasy silverware to sort. I wondered if my working for the US government in this way, with all these officials would lead to great things in my future. I fantasized about the new addition to my resume that wouldn't involve me getting dirty in some way. I should've waited to actually start my employment for the Census before I let these delusions of grandeur get the best of me.

I worked at the Census with a friend of mine, Kim, and we carpooled together. Our first night there, we were divided up into teams, and introduced to our team captain. I developed a spontaneous crush on my team captain because he had the sweetest smile ever, and he smelled like such a great time. Anyway, I couldn't help but notice, that though we had been put through the ringer for this job, there were hundreds of us hired and we were in, essentially, a warehouse. I was a college student, and on my team there were professional people who'd heard about the temporary job at a great pay rate and decided to moonlight as a census worker for the few months that the job was supposed to last. However, as I glanced around this little data entry sweat shop, I noticed that there were also some new hires that were a little less than professional. I saw a few new employees dressed in sweats and do-rags. I swear that I saw someone with a baby in their lap in front of a computer. I also recall a few "thug life" tatoos on some gentlemen, who frankly, I couldn't see having the ability to type with such thick, man-killing hands. Hmmm....

We were welcomed to the US Government 2000 census, and congratulated on making it past the obviously thorough screening process to work for our government. We were viewing handwritten Census forms that had been scanned into the computer and we were supposed to type what we saw, no matter what it said. If Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse were the two residents living in that particular abode, than they should be counted as such. Did we have any questions?

I did have questions, but none of them pertained to the official task that we were supposed to perform, so I remained silent, and turned to my computer. It read "no batches found." In fact, nearly everyone's black-screened computer read simply, "no batches found." When we brought this issue up to our well-trained team captains, we were told, "yea...they said this might happen. Y'all better bring something to do when you come to work in case there's down time."

And bring things we did. Personally, I had homework, and I wrote poetry, but people brought jacks, hoola hoops, cards, and board games. Working for the US government was where I learned to play poker...don't test my skills. Night after night, next to computers that read "no batches found," we played like children, while people in suits asked us if we knew anyone looking for temporary employment as they were DESPERATE for employees. I almost offered to let them bring a second computer that said "no batches found" to me and I could sit next to that one too to help them out, but I was starting to get into really deep bible and book discussions, and I didn't want the second computer in my way.

Towards the end of my time at the Census, the government sponsored a giant indoor work picnic to thank us for all of our hard work. They applauded our success, and hoped to see us back in 2010. The picnic was to include an awards ceremony, and a cheerleading contest. I was on the yellow team, and wrote my team's cheers. We came in second place. At the time I was a kid in college, and didn't have an appreciation for tax dollars, or the misuse of government funds. Looking back now, with a better understanding of those types of issues, it really makes me want to give America a round of applause. Don't forget to stand up and be counted for the official US Government 2010 census!

--SJ

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